He sat alone in the corner, staring off blankly into the space above our heads, past the door beyond where we sat discussing him as if he wasn't there.
In a way, he wasn't.
The routine change was too much suddenly, unexpected. He didn't understand why I was at school, why he wasn't getting on the bus, why he wasn't leaving the room.
So he went to the corner with the chairs, where his days at preschool start and end, and waited for the do-over that would make it right.
She looked at us three, his teacher, the social worker, and myself, her mouth agape from thought and allergies, then to the corner where he sat detached from the environment. She looked down at the safety bubbles between her legs on the carpet; to her hand which chubbily clutched the wand she'd decided to gnaw.
Much as he does, she chucked the wand mid-movement, rolling through her hips to her knees, twisting her ankles underneath her in a way that makes mine ache, and she began to crawl with determination and trepidation equally balanced between her tiny, solid shoulder blades.
I shift position to see her trajectory, to make sure trouble was not brimming on the child-sized horizon. His teacher noticed too, the social worker the only one still concentrating at the task at hand, seemingly unaware of the potential altercation about to unfold.
Part of me braced for the inevitable -- a display of his random acts of violence towards her, ones she's gotten far too used to, a side effect of having a special older brother. At least they could see, then, what I'm talking about when I try to explain the vitriol with which he regards the only other human being on this earth that shares 100% of the same genetic code as himself.
Her pace slows as she approaches him, gets within his arms' reach, and stops as she pops down on her bum at his feet, staring up with mouth still agape.
He does not register her existence.
I see her soft baby hands move forward into the space between their bodies, open and out and up as she raises to her knees, the highest she can go, and rests them on his knees.
I hold my breath as he does not allow her to touch him, steeling myself for the chaos to momentarily erupt in public, another worst nightmare parenting situation for me.
She stares up into her brother's face as her little hands raise and fall, raise and fall, patting his knees softly.
Clarity crosses his eyes and face, his teeth release the gnashing grip upon his lower lip and he looks down at her slightly surprised.
And he smiles.
Bright as the sun, a giggle escaping before it instantly changes.
He moves to stand as she plops back down on her bum, then shifts quickly to all fours, off towards a nearby bookcase to peruse the unfamiliar selections, getting out of reach. He babbles nonsense and goes to the play kitchen to grab a baby doll and play with it at the table nearby.
The social worker talks on, oblivious.
But I see his teacher smile slightly, looking to my face for my reaction to better gauge her own.
I'm sure she saw my chin quiver and my jaw set to keep it in, hold it back, I will not lose it in this room again, there is nothing to cry about.
But for a split second, I saw the seeds of a relationship between my children based in familiarity and kindness, a relationship I've yet to witness as they move about their lives barely acknowledging each other to be much different than the cats or the dog.
There, in that moment, she knew he was upset and she went to comfort him, and her actions brought him back from himself with a smile towards his baby sister to display the gratitude.
They know who each other are.
And it's my job to never let them forget it.